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Cube Cam on Channel 3
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by Stacia Naquin, August 2, 2014
How clean is the ice in your drink? It’s an important question to ask, especially this time of year in Arizona as we all look for ways to cool off. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the average American buys four bags of packaged ice each year, 80 percent of it between Memorial and Labor Day.
Phoenix-based ice-packaging company Ice King can attest to the hustle of the summer season, making approximately 100 tons of ice a day. “It’s our busiest time of year,” said Ryan Maasen, president of Ice King. “This is our Christmas.”
No matter how busy things get during the summer, safety and cleanliness remain a priority because of the possibility of ice contamination. SafeIce.org calls it a serious public-health concern, citing studies that show ice handled improperly can test for unacceptable levels of bacteria like E. coli, which can make people sick. But just because you purchased ice from a store, doesn’t mean that it’s clean. According to the International Packaged Ice Association, “Most people believe that bottled water and packaged ice meet the same rigorous quality and safety standards. This is most certainly not the case.”
The association says 50 to 60 percent of all packaged ice sold in the U.S. and Canada is produced on-premises at supermarkets, gas stations, liquor stores, campgrounds and other retail and wholesale outlets. These facilities are not inspected by the FDA for this type of manufacturing, which means there’s no way to know how many hands have come into contact with the ice that is now in your drink. At a regulated facility, such as Ice King, the ice is created and bagged by machines.
“It’s a non-touch process, and that’s how we keep our ice clean,” Maasen said. But that’s hardly where the regulations end.
At ice-manufacturing plants, the FDA requires the company to “produce, hold and transport ice in clean and sanitary conditions, monitor the cleanliness and hygiene of employees, use properly cleaned and maintained equipment, and use water that is safe and sanitary.”
How do you know if the ice you’re purchasing is properly regulated? Here are three key things to look for, according to the packaged-ice association:
- The bag must be properly closed and secure (no drawstring ties).
- The bag must have the manufacturer’s name, address and phone number.
- The bag must have a product code.
When you insist on these quality markers, you can enjoy that cold drink on a hot summer day, knowing your ice most likely is clean and safe.
by Lisa Schnebly Heidinger
Being Ice King sounds like your days should be spent wandering halls of a glistening frozen palace, with chill breezes in every sparkling room. But Ryan Maasen, who owns Ice King, knows better: often his days start on a sultry loading dock when it’s still dark outside. While his business card says “president,” the affable Maasen claims he should be called something else; he does as many jobs as he can in his constant dedication to running the company as lean as he can make it.
Which is what he says you have to do if you’re the only locally owned company that’s one of the top three ice manufacturers in Arizona. Competing against big outside corporations means you need great product, great service, and as few expenses as possible. Giving a tour of the facility, Maasen points out that when it comes to safety and customer service, he spares no expense. This means getting water tested at an independent lab even though the law doesn’t require him to do so; having an extra massive motor for one machine sitting next to the one that’s working, so they never have to shut down for days if that motor breaks. It means all employees taking the food service test to be card-carrying food service employees, even though they wouldn’t have to. Maasen doesn’t want to do enough; he wants to do more than enough.
While he brushes away his title, the 34-year-old clearly is the spine and heart of Ice King. Looking more like a former linebacker in his baseball cap and casual clothes than a company president, Maasen also answers the phone in the middle of the night if anyone calls. Hence the phrase on the website, “Ice never sleeps.”
“That’s not our official slogan,” Maasen says, “but it points out that any time you call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, one of four people here answers. You never know who is on the other end of the phone.” And people who call know they won’t get a recording, a list of numbers to push for different departments, or endless rings. Ice King got a good job because no other company answered the phone on a Sunday, when one of the area’s Native American tribes needed ice to give to residents while power was out.
Maasen and his vice-president of sales and marketing, John Hayes, conduct a tour through the Ice King plant to show how the product is made. While the ingredient list is obviously simple, the process is filled with safeguards and details. For one thing, the ice never comes in contact with humans or chemicals, from the state of being water in a tank, to bagged cubes. Hayes says Ice King can empty the 5,000-gallon tanks of purified water several times a day. And while ammonia is used to drive temperatures low enough for ice to form, it is in a completely closed system that never comes in contact with the ice, either. Outside the plant is a complicated system that would handle an ammonia spill. Ice forms around rods in the extreme cold, and every so often tumbles down, where it gradually ascends a tube on a slowly twisting metal conveyance system. In the next room it showers into the storage bin that evokes a fast food ball pit, except that instead of bright colors it’s all transparent. The huge clear container can accommodate almost 60 tons – 120,000 pounds – of ice. Maasen and Hayes point out that the six inches at the base are never used, as an extra cleanliness precaution. The rest moves up another tube into the next room, where workers watch as bags are separated, puffed with air to open them, and then filled with the allotted amount of ice. After that the bags are sealed. Each is stamped with a code number.
“We could have eliminated that inventory number and date control sticker and save thousands of dollars,” says Maasen. “But if there every were a problem with city water, we could trace it, and make sure our product is good to go.” Being extra careful is a recurring theme on the tour. Dozens of motors are involved with the conveyer-belt process. If anything needs to be fixed, the water is lab-tested again. All this is why the official Ice King slogan is “Pure Quality.”
“That applies to our ice and to our service,” says Maasen. He credits his zeal for customer service to his childhood. While his mother ran a chocolate business, his father worked in frozen foods. Starting at the age of eight helping his mother, Maasen learned the importance of rigorous high cleanliness standards, and also the challenge of delivering chocolate in hot weather. He didn’t dream then that he’d end up in a business where his product melts even faster.
But after following two other brothers to ASU, Maasen found he liked working in the concierge and hospitality industry at the Phoenician resort. A rise to manager made sense, “but I saw how hard they worked and how long the hours were, and figured if I were going to work that hard, it was going to be for myself.” Maasen’s father mentioned having seen a want ad about a block ice business. He pictured those ice blocks being sold to make ice sculptures, and thought the resort contacts would help. When it turned out the business actually manufactured ice for sale, Maasen wasn’t deterred. “I thought it made sense at the time, and that we could do a few things that maybe weren’t being done. We did those things, and here we are.”
So even though Hayes says the company runs at an extremely lean level to stay competitive, with fewer than two dozen employees, it’s come a long way from early days. “I started with an F-150 pickup truck and a trailer with no refrigeration and two employees,” says Maasen. “One was production and I was the other. I could only make two deliveries at a time before I had to come back.” Today, Maasen’s drivers can make a dozen or more deliveries at a stretch, with their huge refrigerated trucks. And by storing the ice at only 15 degrees, there’s a built-in temperature cushion to more than offset loading and unloading. Maasen’s proud of his delivery team.
“They’re the ones who come in contact with the customer, so they always have to be on their ‘A’ game,” he says. “And they do things perfectly. One client called me to say the ice is always stacked evenly, never sloppy. He said it’s the way they want everything done. It’s perfect.” He’s also gotten complements from companies that get frustrated when delivery drivers don’t speak English. His drivers have to want to work hard to be with Ice King, but the benefits and salary are great for those who do. Each member of the delivery team gets a daily bonus if there are no mistakes during the course of a shift. Maasen and Hayes believe money is the easiest motivator in business.
The delivery team makes the runs you’d expect, around the Valley, and several a week to Tucson. They also have clients in Prescott. Hayes has formed a network of distributors that meet the standards of Ice King to deliver the product statewide. The drivers also make some deliveries unexpected to many of us.
“You’d be surprised what ice goes into,” says Maasen.
For instance, road construction crews who drink water all day from huge jugs need ice. Cities depend on Ice King daily. Cement trucks need ice to keep the mix from hardening too soon. And during the summer, bread makers may get water out of the city taps too hot for yeast to rise; they need ice. One call for ice that isn’t terribly effective is people who want to cool down a swimming pool. Rather than turn it polar, a big ice delivery will bring a pool temperature down a few degrees here before it evaporates.
Maasen manufactures Vogt tube ice, the most common in the Arizona market. Ice King sells their bags in numerous sizes to accommodate customer market demands. Ice King also has a distribution arm that takes care of event, restaurant, bar, and hot shot delivery business. The distribution arm is known as Ice King Distribution and is headed up by Art Gomez, who has been in the industry for 23 years. Maasen says they can do custom orders of crushed or shaved ice, but it starts to refreeze too quickly to sell in bags at grocery stores. He says they also have brought back solid ice, sold in block and what they call “rock ice,” an inch-by-inch old-fashioned crystal clear cube. During the plant tour, Maasen greets a worker who he says does maintenance. Still, any of them, from president on down, will fill an order for shaved ice, or answer a phone, or trouble-shoot a problem.
“Our people are great – they know what needs to be done, and they do it. I’m not sure what ‘it’ is, but everyone here gets it,” says Maasen. “Most of the employees have been in the ice business before. I don’t like having to go into a conference room for a little meeting about not getting the job done. If someone were sloppy or didn’t want to work until the job was done, they wouldn’t be here.” Hayes says with a smile that Maasen has the opposite problem: he cares so much, it’s hard to get him to take a day off, ever. If he is gone, it’s fishing in Cabo San Lucas. “And if you can’t leave without something going wrong, you have the wrong people,” he adds. Still, he works every day.
“This isn’t a hobby business. If you want to work a couple of days a week, someone else would take care of those customers. We’re dedicated to what we do; we have to be.”
While attending Arizona State University, Ryan Maasen did not know what he wanted to do for a living, but he knew he wanted to follow in his parents professional footsteps.
And when Maasen purchased his ice-block business, Ice King, in 2004, the Iowa native found a cool way to make that happen.
Seven years later, Maasen oversees his Phoenix company’s daily production of more than 100,000 pounds of ice in his new 20,000-square-foot facility, which includes a 6,000-square-foot freezer to store it all. But for those who think owning an ice-manufacturing business in the desert is easy, Maasen begs to differ. Asking whether this job is as easy as it sounds is a question he hears often.
“You have to be able to make a lot of it, and that’s the challenge,” he said. “It’s a very mechanical business. Once you produce it, you have to store it. . . That’s another challenge.”
When Maasen bought the business, it had been manufacturing block ice for construction sites only. He expanded the product line to include cube ice and rock ice for restaurants and retail. Maasen is currently perfecting an ice shot glass that he hopes to launch in the near future. They will come with their own freezer case, which will be displayed on bars for patrons who want it filled with the spirit of their choosing.
“We’re taking an everyday product to the next level,” said Maasen, president of the company.
All his ice bags are heat-sealed instead of tied shut with a metal clasp to reduce the risk of a small child getting ahold of it and swallowing the tiny piece.
The company is registered with Food and Drug Administration and is certified to do business with the military, he said.
Maasen said he thinks his is the only ice manufacturer in the state that has a recall stamp on bags. This allows easy tracking in the event of contamination.
An independent lab regularly tests his water, and all employees have food handler cards.
Maasen’s dedication to safety and cleanliness comes from his mother, who owned a gourmet-chocolate factory before retiring, he said. Because people consume ice, he treats it just like food.
“We’ve done different things to set us apart from competitors. It’s the love of a small-business owner and passion for small business that drives our success,” Maasen said. “Anyone can make ice, but we’re separating ourselves with service to our customers.”
Ice King has provided cube ice for sale and fountain drinks for about four years for Bob Figueroa’s Bill’s Market in Tempe.
Although other companies have been slow to respond to his needs because his is a small mom-and-pop store, Figueroa said that Maasen has never made him feel neglected or pushed aside.
“I’ve dealt with several ice companies in 27 years, and Ryan’s has given the best service I’ve had,” Figueroa said. “I can call him anytime during the day, and he’ll get over today. And, if that’s not possible, he’s here tomorrow.”
While pursuing his degree in interdisciplinary studies with emphasis on business, Maasen worked at high-end resorts doing guest relations. It did not take long for him to realize that he would rather be working for himself than someone else.
Like his mother, his father was a business owner who sold his plastic-distribution company before retiring. His older brother had also started his own business.
“One day, my dad and I were talking, and he asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but something for myself. I’ve seen you, and you both taught me good skills,’” Maasen recalled.
Thumbing through the classified section, Maasen’s father found an ice-block business for sale and encouraged his son to look into it. With a loan from his father, which he later paid back with interest, Maasen was on his way.
Maasen credited his parents with giving him the work ethic required to run a successful company. He called the hands-on experience working at his mother’s factory “priceless.”
“We don’t work 9 to 5. We work when the job starts, and we stop when it ends, and that makes the customers happy. They taught me those things,” he said. “Some days when I’m down in the dumps, they keep me motivated to keep going.”
Restaurants, grocers, food-production businesses and construction companies are among his 100 regular customers. Ice King ice is sold in select Costco stores in the Phoenix area and Tucson.
He delivers to bread companies that need ice to keep water cool enough during the summer so it can react properly with yeast. Because concrete needs to be poured at a certain temperature, construction companies also need his product.
“My typical client is everybody,” Maasen said. “You’d be surprised at how many people use ice in this city in applications you never thought would need ice.”
Ice could be a sign the local economy is warming up.
Ryan Maasen, president of Phoenix-based Ice King, said he’s getting more orders from retail and construction companies, “Within the past 18 months we’ve created roughly 12 jobs.”
What started as a two-man operation about eight years ago has grown to nearly 20 employees.
Inside Ice King’s 20,000-square-foot facility, they produce 50 tons of ice daily, from big blocks to seven-pound bags available at convenience and grocery stores. Maasen said they can make more than 1,000 pounds of ice every 15 minutes and he plans to double production by year’s end.
If you’re looking for the perfect temperature for a pool party, Ice King can deliver.
It usually takes a thousand pounds or more to cool a pool just a few degrees during summer. Although the effects last only a few hours, Ice King said it has had a handful of orders this summer.